And so it begins for you back in 1962, when you’re ten and a half years old and you have no idea what love is, but you’re starting to get old enough where you want to find out. There’s a new team in town, the Mets, and you watch them the first few weeks because there’s no way you can root for the Yankees. The Yankees win all the time, and that’s not the way it is on the south shore of Long Island, where the people you came from don’t win, they just survive, and your old man smokes three packs of Viceroys every day and pounds it into you just how hard life really is, and people who root for the Yankees don’t understand that, can’t possibly grasp the pain of it all, and everybody else just sleeps and eats and copulates until they get old and die.
So you watch the Mets for a few weeks but something doesn’t quite feel right, because this is absolutely the worst baseball team of all time, and even though you want to see the underdog win, you just can’t quite go there. And a month later you have the flu and have to stay home from school and sit in front of your black and white TV, the one with the tubes that Uncle Bill comes to fix every few months, and you just happen to be there, right there, when the San Francisco Giants come back to New York for the first time in four years after migrating west. And you see him, the Great Man, black Jesus, the one and only Mays, and the fans are screaming because they love him so much and he’s back where he belongs, and he runs impossibly fast, throws impossibly hard and hits the ball out of sight. The Giants beat the Mets four straight and now you know what love is. Now you are hooked.
So you spend a summer racing to the street when the paperboy comes with Newsday, and you rip it open to read the box score and see if they won and the Great Man hit one out, and the pennant race is a classic and your beloved Jints catch the hated Dodgers on the last day of the season and it goes to a three-game playoff to see who goes on to the Series to play the haughty Yankees. And you’re sitting there on a dark east coast October night watching on your black and white TV that Uncle Bill just fixed again, and your old man is puffing away on Viceroys, and you marvel, even in black and white, about the way the sun slants across Chavez Ravine way out in California, and that plants a seed in you, a seed that grows and tells you someday you’ve got to feel that sun for yourself, in the golden west. And so it goes to the ninth inning of the deciding game three, and your Giants are down 4-2, and you’re sobbing because it hurts so bad and there’s nothing your old man can say to make you feel better. But your boys score four runs in the ninth to win it and go to the Series, and it doesn’t get any better than that, because you’re screaming and rolling around on the living room floor and your old man is laughing so hard he has tears in his eyes, and you laugh, too.
So you get into that first Series, and it takes weeks to conclude because of rainstorms on the west coast, and these are the days when they play the Series during the day, so you bring your little transistor radio to school and you run the wire up through your shirt and lean on your right hand, over your ear, so the teacher can’t see that you’re listening to the game. But these are the days when baseball rules, so your sixth grade teacher Miss Lotito puts the game up on the speaker on the wall. Miss Lotito is a hard-ass little Sicilian no more than five feet tall, but she’s got a leather face and a right hand like Rocky Marciano, and you’ve seen her slam the heads of punks into the blackboard and you are scared shitless of her. But she puts the game on and you hear Chuck Hiller hit the first NL grand slam in Series history and you think you might be in.
But then it’s the seventh game and you’re across the street watching it on Jerry Shaver’s black and white TV, and the Great Man hits a two-out double in the ninth to chase Matty Alou to third. You’re trailing 1-0 and a base hit will win it, because even God can’t throw out Willie Mays trying to score from second. And then the great McCovey, the Giant your mother loves because of his drawl and he’s so nice, the great McCovey hits a ball about as hard as a man can hit it, but Bobby Richardson catches it and it’s over, and now you’re sobbing again because there’s no tomorrow.
But there’s always next year and you’re absolutely convinced they’ll win it then, and in fact your beloved Giants have the best record in baseball for the decade of the ‘60s, but they never do win it all. They finish second five years in a row, behind either the hated Dodgers or the Cardinals, and you watch the great Koufax, a Brooklyn Jew, and his sidekick the snarling Don Drysdale, a hound of a man from Hades, and you see the hated Dodgers win every game that counts 2-1, and you wonder to yourself: how does it feel to have pitching THAT good?
You spend the rest of the ‘60s having your heart broken every year, because they’re never bad, they’re very, very good, but just never good enough. You stay up until two in the morning on school nights to listen to games from the west coast, fighting through the static listening to Bob Prince out of Pittsburgh or Harry Carey out of St. Louis, only at night when the skip wave brings the beautiful sound of baseball to you, and even if you can only hear three words an inning through the static, it’s enough. It’s enough.
And the next thing you know, it’s time to leave home, and you take the first plane ride of your life at 18 to go to college in California and follow that dream, and it turns out that the Giants play right up the road in a frozen tomb called Candlestick Park, and now you can go see them anytime. They get close in 1971 and then the next year you’re in school in England, and you read in the International Herald Tribune that your beloved Giants did the unthinkable, trading black Jesus the great Mays away, and now you wonder if your love will die.
But it doesn’t, because you’re back in the Bay Area in 1973 and the Jints make a brief run at it, and you like the way Bobby Bonds lights up a cigarette in the corner of the dugout after he hits one out, and even though black Jesus is gone forever, you know you’re hooked for life. So you move to LA in 1974 to fight the rock and roll wars, and now you’re surrounded on all sides by Dodger fans, who mock you and laugh at you because every year the Dodgers are winning now, and your team just flat out stinks. You walk to the end of the hill to take your dog out at night and you look across a valley to where the glow of Chavez Ravine sheds light on the city of angels, and your link to the game is now through the golden voice of the great man, Vin Scully, and even though you hate the Dodgers you just love Vin because he’s the best there ever was (and STILL is, remarkably, all these years later).
So you get your head handed to you in the rock and roll wars and you move back to the Bay Area and start over, and man, are those Giants bad. You go to games at the frozen Candlestick mausoleum that looks and feels like a big cement toilet bowl. You walk up to the ticket booth on any given night and buy seats behind the Giants dugout, because there are only 5,000 people there on any given night, and you’ve never been so goddam cold in your life in the middle of July, when the fights break out and the beer bottles get thrown and you can smoke dope right out in the open behind the dugout because no one gives a damn.
And then the late ‘80s come and Candy Maldonado (Candy mal o nada we called him) slides to make a catch but the ball rolls to the wall and the Cardinals go on to the Series. And then it’s 1989 and your boys finally make it in for the first time since ‘62, only to lose four straight to the Oakland A’s, and it’s the goddam Dodgers’ fault again because they beat the A’s in 1988 with Hershiser pitching like Koufax used to, and there was no way the A’s, then the best team in baseball, were going to let anyone beat them in ’89 because of it. The earthquake comes in mid Series to hold things up, but you’re there in Candlestick in the upper deck by the right field foul pole for Game Four when the A’s sweep, and it’s the last time you ever smoke dope at a baseball game because the housewives give you dirty looks and suddenly it’s not cool anymore.
And so a few years later the Giants trade for Barry, the son of cigarette- smoking, alcohol-riddled Bobby, and the Giants win 103 games in 1993 but don’t even make the playoffs, and you wonder, how is that even possible? And you buy a big house on a hill in Oakland where you can look across the Bay and see the gleaming lights of the most beautiful ballpark ever built, Candlestick now just a memory, and you watch almost every game, except on the weekends when you work in the yard with your transistor radio blaring, just like it was 1962 all over again.
And now it’s 2002 and the Giants are in the Series once more, and Barry Bonds’ head is the size of a beach ball from all the steroids, but you don’t care, because you have never, ever seen a man hit a baseball like he does, and it doesn’t matter that he’s an asshole because he’s a Giant. He is one of you, and you love him unconditionally even though he has all the charm of a bridge troll. And so you’re up 3-2 in games and it’s the seventh inning of Game Six and Jeff Kent knocks in a run to put you up 5-0 and you stand up and shout “It’s Over!”, and for fifteen minutes you actually know what it’s like to be a champion. Except it isn’t over, and goddam Felix Rodriguez with his straight fastball throws one in the only place you never throw a fastball to a power-hitting left hander, low and in, and the degenerate Scott Spezio hits one out, and the next thing you know the game is lost, and there’s no way they’re going to win Game Seven, and of course they don’t.
And then your life falls apart and you leave that house on the hill with the three beautiful children and you drive back home to Long Island in your big black car, because there’s nowhere else to go and you understand that home is that place where, when you absolutely have to go there, they absolutely have to take you in. Mercifully, your Giants fall into the nether regions for a few years, because now you have more on your mind than the Giants, and you have to extract your head out of your ass before you can pay attention to them again.
But, what light at yonder window breaks? The pain subsides and you get your head out of your ass, and suddenly the Giants look good again. They can’t hit for shit, but if you close your eyes you can almost channel Koufax again because these guys can really pitch, led by a long-haired doper who looks like he belongs in Little League but blows people away with nasty stuff that has more hair on it than he does on his neo-hippie head.
So from afar, you watch them get close in 2009, and when spring comes the next year and they look good, you say “Yeah, I’m down with that,” and you pay 175 bucks to get MLB TV and you can watch anything. You can watch Kansas City play Seattle if you’re really sick, but all you watch is the Giants. You watch at least 140 games, and it’s 1962 all over again, because you stay up until 2 AM watching games on the coast, except now you don’t have school in the morning and your 90-year-old mother down the street can’t stop you from pounding that vodka and smoking that weed and crawling up the stairs to go to bed with your heart racing, because every game is 1-0 or 2-1, and now you’re starting to understand how those goddam Dodger fans felt in the ‘60s when they had Koufax and Drysdale, who made every hitter look like he was swinging a piece of brittle uncooked spaghetti instead of a baseball bat.
And so the season stretches on and you hope, but there’s this little matter of the San Diego Padres who refuse to fold---until they finally do, losing 10 straight, and on the last day of the season you clinch and you’re in. Again. You watch your boys go to Atlanta and beat those tomahawk-chopping hillbillies to send Bobby Cox into retirement. You watch your boys go to Philly and beat the best team in baseball, the best team with the worst fans who would boo Santa Claus if they had the chance, and now you’re one step away, and you just can’t take it.
You wish it were the Yankees instead of the Rangers lying in wait, because you owe those money boys from the Bronx a little payback, but if you can’t have them, then a team that used to be owned by that clown prince George Bush is the next best thing. And when you can’t watch the Series on your own TV because of a local cable dispute, you watch it on your computer, with one camera angle from the press box, and it’s like watching baseball in 1962 all over again, and it’s priceless.
And then the TV comes back on and you’re sitting there with a pipe and some vodka. Instead of old Miss Lotito you watch the games with another Sicilian, from the wrong side of the tracks in Patchogue, the next town over where your parents grew up. She can’t remember the names of people she met just yesterday, but she can tell you the entire roster of the ’69 Miracle Mets, because she was there behind the dugout with her Mafioso uncle and his box seats, a 10-year old dancing on the seats in her crushed velour blue and orange Met-colored hot pants, dancing to get on TV. And now she screams with you every night, and your German Shepherd Otto barks at the big screen because this baseball thing confuses him, and now you’re getting close.
And then, it’s over. Edgar Renteria, the forgotten man who the fans have raked over the coals for his big contract and diminished skills—the same Edgar Renteria who won the World Series for the 1997 Marlins in his rookie year with a line drive to center—comes up in the seventh inning for what likely will turn out to be the last at bat of his career, and he hits another one to center. But it’s high and deep this time, and you think it will be caught— except that it just keeps going, keeps going, keeps going and finally drops into the first row of seats for a three-run bomb. And as Edgar rounds the bases the ghosts run with him, the great ones like Mays and McCovey and Cepeda, and the almost forgotten ones like Bolin and LeMaster and Manwaring, and even though there are nine outs left to get, you know it’s over. And then, suddenly, it is.
Sweet Jesus. Forty-eight years and a couple of weeks after McCovey’s liner finds Richardson’s mitt, and it’s finally over. Next year has finally come.
“Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children dream;
But the greatest joy is by the bay*…the Giants reign supreme.”
* San Francisco Bay, Great South Bay, Bay of Fundy…it’s all the same.
The old man told me so very long ago: All things come to those who wait. Wish you were here to see and feel this, Dad. Good night, sweet prince.